Entangled revolutions since the 18th century

Dissidents, émigrés, scholars

Date: 1 September 2017, 09:00–12:00

Venue: Corvinus University, Fővám tér 8, room 3004



The 18th century as the “age of democratic revolutions” is part of the grand narrative particularly instituting the 1789 French Revolution as the caesura that initiated global democratic progress. This ethno-centric narrative is being challenged by scholars of the field of world history on both spatial and chronological levels. Consequently, this panel explores new perspectives on revolutions in general and of the French (1789) and American Revolution (1776) in particular. The first paper examines to what degree the authoritarian Austro-Hungarian Empire impacted the American Revolution of 1776 and introduces a new angle of analysis. The second paper starts with a critique of the chronological periodization of history through revolutions. Thus, highly relevant periods such as the 1820s “revolutionary in-between,” which, when re-contextualized, appears to be as crucial as perhaps the French Revolution. The third paper takes a different approach by examining the 18th century “age of revolutions” from a different spatial perspective, namely the Islamic world. At the same time it challenges the centrality of Europe and the Americas in the revolutionary narratives. The fourth paper examines the active role emigration played in the French Revolution. Finally, the last paper discusses how transformative scientific ideas (chemical concepts) shaped and influenced revolutionary history in general and the non-cooperation movement in colonial India in particular. Overall, this panel offers an interdisciplinary and multilateral perspective on the 18th century as the “age of revolutions.”



Holger Weiss (Åbo Akademi University Turku)


Jonathan Singerton (University of Edinburgh)

Anna Nath (Rutgers University)

Ian Coller (University of California)

Friedemann Pestel (Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg)

Amelia Bonea (University of Oxford)



Jonathan Singerton: Empires on the edge: the Habsburg Monarchy and the American Revolution, 1776-1789

"If you teach a survey course on the history of American foreign relations, chances are you don't spend very much time on the Austro-Hungarian Empire." In short, this paper will argue why we should by exploring the connections between one of the most autocratic states in Europe and the democratic revolution taking place across the Atlantic. I will focus on three areas: diplomatic, economic, and intellectual, to uncover the multilayered interactions and responses to the American Revolution in an unconventional setting. In doing so I offer fresh ideas about the more global aspects of both eighteenth century revolutions and the central European region. 

Anna Nath: The European 1820s: the struggle for constitutionalism in the “revolutionary in-between”

Following the Restoration in France and the 1815 Congress of Vienna, the European 1820s conventionally fall in the “revolutionary in-between”.  There were uprisings in Spain, Naples, Piedmont, Greece and Russia that have maintained a place in their national histories, but mostly as stepping stones to some “bigger and better” events and with no consensus on their nomenclature - revolutions, rebellions, revolts?  This paper attempts to bring attention to the 1820s as a European phenomenon by challenging the narrative of historical progression through revolutions that marginalizes events not fitting the “right” class or the “right” scale.  The question then becomes why were the 1820s so active? Through letters and memoires of the men that led these uprisings emerges the story of a pan-European struggle for constitutionalism.  Young aristocrats closely connected by cosmopolitanism of their class were behind the revolutionism of this decade.  The only revolution they knew, however, was the French Revolution, and most of them embarked on their uprisings for constitutionalism precisely in order to avoid a revolution at home.  Educated on the ideas of Enlightenment, they matured during the Napoleonic wars.  No strangers to heroism on the battlefield, united by the bonds of friendship and camaraderie, these aristocratic revolutionaries dedicated their lives to bringing change through action.  Political liberalism provided the tools and literary Romanticism – the language of their expression. But it is their conviction that change is necessary and it requires decisive action that takes this decade out of the “revolutionary in-between” and makes it simply revolutionary.

Ian Coller: The revolutionary age of Islam

The term “Age of Revolutions” usually suggests an Atlantic axis between Europe and the Americas. Yet late eighteenth century crises were taking place across the Muslim world: the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 1783; the Wahhabi threat to the holy cities of Islam; Sufi tariqa movements in Morocco and Algeria crossing the western Sahara. Eric Hobsbawm considered this period a global revival of Islam – but was it revival or revolution? This paper, based on my research for a manuscript dealing with the French Revolution and Islam, interrogates the connected history of revolution across the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond. 

Friedemann Pestel: The “age of revolutions” as an “age of emigrations”: French émigrés and global entanglements of political exile

Through the lens of the French emigration, this paper explores transnational repercussions of the French Revolution. Political migration shifts the usual focus on the foyer of revolution to its repercussions, appropriations, and interactions outside France on a global level. 

French émigrés claimed for support and collaboration in their territories of exile using other migrations as a political argument. Categories such as “Europe” or the “world” played a key role in attempts of combating the Revolution. Global settlement projects provided political scenarios beyond an unforeseeable return of the émigrés to France.

In the light of these debates on the spatiality of exile, French émigrés appear no longer as “absentees” from revolution. Interactions with other migrants highlight transfers of knowledge and practices of mobilisation. The émigrés’ mobility and their awareness about the global impact of the ‘Age of Revolutions’ offered spatial alternatives to the radicalisation of the Revolution in France.

Amelia Bonea: Fashioning modernity, explaining social change: science and nationalism in the thought of Ruchi Ram Sahni

Scientific ideas have often been used in the course of history to explain social change. One familiar example comes from the French Revolution, which generated a substantial politico-philosophical discourse that drew on chemical metaphors to explain the momentous transformations of that period. Building on such historical insights, the present paper uses the life and career of Indian chemist and physicist Ruchi Ram Sahni (1863-1948) to examine how chemical concepts and ideas—in particular the law of mass action—were used to understand the Non-Cooperation Movement of the early 1920s and the rise of a national consciousness in colonial India.

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